On Friday, August 3, 2012, Brunswick County, N.C., sheriff’s deputies, accompanied by “animal rights advocates,” seized 160 dogs from a double-wide mobile home in Leland, N.C. Twenty-six birds and one cat were also removed from the trailer, which had no electricity at the time of the seizure. This was the ninth puppy mill bust in the state over the past year.

The owners of the animals, a couple that appeared to be in their 60s or older, were arrested on charges of animal neglect and animal cruelty, and as of August 6, remained in the Brunswick County jail on $1.5 million bonds.

You’re familiar with the scene: cage after cage, stacked from floor to ceiling, of filthy, matted dogs, either cringing in fear or whimpering for attention. There are three or four dogs to a cage, and they’re standing on wire, covered in excrement. You don’t have to be there to imagine the smell inside a double-wide mobile home that housed 160 dogs.

In the host of news stories following the most recent bust, representatives of the Humane Society of the United States strongly advocated for “establishing laws” to regulate commercial breeders in North Carolina, reportedly the site of more puppy mill busts than any other state in the country. The newscaster on local TV station WRAL said in her report about the couple’s arrest that, “Advocates have been trying for years to get lawmakers to regulate puppy mills. There are no state standards for breeders. Federal laws don’t cover most of them either.”

Further into the news story, Melanie Kahn, named on the broadcast as the “national director of the HSUS campaign to stop puppy mills,” claimed that “Almost every product sold in this country is subject to some sort of regulation, but somehow dog breeding is not.”

Seeing the news footage of dozens of little Shih Tzu, Yorkies, Chihuahuas and other small dogs, skinny, shaved down and yipping for attention, tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who loves dogs. The pictures of baby puppies, their eyes just opened, accompanied by the pleas from the HSUS representatives. no doubt convinces most viewers that something must be done to protect these innocent animals from abuse and neglect. That is exactly what I thought when I saw the broadcast and read accounts of all of the dogs seized from what can only be called a commercial breeding operation.

One state representative, Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), was prompted by this seizure to promise to introduce legislation next year that will help “prevent instances like that happening.”

The problem is that laws are already in place designed to protect animals from inhumane treatment. The couple in this story is being held for breaking existing laws, with higher bond amounts than are often required for suspected murderers. The HSUS representatives are effectively spreading untrue information to the public.

Peter Lunding, president of the North Carolina Federation of Dog Clubs, responded to the WRAL report with this observation: “‘Breeder licensing proposals’ do not solve the problem of abusers and hoarders of dogs. Abusers of dogs obviously ignore the law. They should be prosecuted for abuse under the current laws under the North Carolina Animal Welfare Act.”

Yes, in spite of the fact that news reports repeated over and over that there are no regulations in place in North Carolina for the care of animals, the truth is that in 1977 the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the Animal Welfare Act “to ensure that animals, as items of commerce, are provided humane care and treatment by regulating the transportation, sale, purchase, housing, care, handling and treatment of animals by persons or organizations engaged in transporting, buying or selling them.”

The website of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture posts the Administrative Code for the Animal Welfare Act, which includes requirements for feeding, watering, daily waste disposal, heating and cooling, ventilation and other aspects of the care and housing of dogs and cats kept for commercial sale.

The problem is not that laws aren’t in place. The problem, really, is that there is never enough manpower to monitor every household or “business” in any state, in order to prevent this kind of situation from happening.

Of course, HSUS and other animal rights extremist groups don’t tell the truth. They continually claim that there are no laws, no regulations in place to protect these animals. They want to put more laws with more stringent requirements in place because their goal is to eliminate the breeding of dogs.

“’Puppy mills’ are bad, obviously, and bad publicity for dog breeders in general. There are more busts in North Carolina not because there are more ‘mills,’ but because HSUS is trying to get the public behind legislation that it wants,” says Lunding. “The animals rights extremist groups play on people’s sympathies, and it works.” It worked on me, and I am far more educated about the situation than the average American who is swayed by press coverage of puppy mill busts.

That’s the frustration, you see. I want to protect those dogs that are abused by puppy millers. But I want the laws that are in place to be upheld. I want the general public to understand that it isn’t all dog breeders who are the problem.

“We need to change the language of the argument,” says Lunding. “I’ve always thought ‘abuse’ is the issue, and we ought to prosecute the abusers under existing laws, not write more legislation that burdens small breeders and dog lovers.”

How do we, as dog owners and hobby breeders, contribute to this conversation?

Awareness is the first step. We must educate ourselves and our acquaintances about the dangers of being swayed by the animal rights groups. Fighting legislation that threatens us as breeders and the future of purebred dogs is a very expensive task. One way that we can all contribute is by joining our local and state coalitions and alliances. If you want to help protect and promote the world of purebred dogs, join your local organization, which you can find by visiting the AKC list of Federations of Dog Clubs and Other Allied Groups. Every dollar counts.

If you haven’t already, please join the more than 70,000 people who have signed AKC’s petition expressing concern about the USDA’s proposed changes to the federal Animal Welfare Act.